Maryland Governor Wes Moore pardons more than 175,000 marijuana convictions

Maryland Governor Wes Moore pardons more than 175,000 marijuana convictions

By Greg Ng and David Collins

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WBAL) – In a sweeping and historic move, Governor Wes Moore has pardoned more than 175,000 marijuana convictions in Maryland.

The governor symbolically used a pen from the Last Prisoner Project to sign the executive order Monday morning. The order includes pardons for more than 150,000 convictions for simple possession of cannabis, as well as more than 18,000 felony convictions for use or possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia.

To put the sheer magnitude of the pardon into perspective, the number of people affected would fill M&T Bank Stadium twice.

“Today we are taking a big step by implementing the kind of policies that can undo the damage of the past and help us work together for a better future,” Moore said. “This is a big problem. This is really a big problem.”

The governor’s office said the pardons will not result in individuals being released from prison.

Pardons come after the legalization of recreational marijuana. The pardon will affect charges that occurred before January 1, 2023, when possession of any amount of cannabis for personal use was decriminalized.

“We can’t celebrate the benefits of legalization if we don’t address the consequences of criminalization,” Moore said. “That rollout (of legalization) must go hand in hand with forgiving past behavior, and Maryland will lead by example.”

The action is the largest state pardon to date and the paraphernalia pardon makes Maryland the first in the nation to take such action, the governor’s office said.

“Right now, we are prepared to write our own history together,” Moore said Monday morning. “I will pardon these convictions relating to the possession of cannabis and cannabis paraphernalia.”

After President Joe Biden issued mass pardons for federal marijuana convictions in 2022, he called on governors to do the same at the state level. That same year, Maryland voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana statewide, which went into effect on July 1, 2023.

Nine other states have taken similar steps. According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the state-level action is matched by only one other state.

Governor: Pardons promote social equality and fairness The governor’s office said the action promotes social equality and ensures fair and equitable administration of justice, citing the fact that the use and possession of cannabis is no longer illegal in Maryland.

“Maryland is going to use this moment to right a lot of historical wrongs,” Moore said.

“Maryland is going to use this moment to right many historical wrongs.”

“The impact is a triumphant victory for African Americans and other Marylanders of color who were disproportionately arrested, convicted and sentenced for actions that were lawful yesterday,” said Maryland Attorney General Anthony.

The governor pointed to Maryland residents who continue to face barriers to housing, employment or education based on convictions for behavior that is no longer illegal.

“We know that legalization cannot turn back the clock on the decades of damage caused by this war on drugs. Legalization doesn’t change the fact that nearly half of all drug arrests in Maryland in the early 2000s involved cannabis. It doesn’t change the fact that black Marylanders were three times more likely to be arrested than white Marylanders,” Moore said.

“Today’s announcement is important for several reasons. First of all, it’s already way too late. As a nation, we have taken far too long to correct the injustices of a system that should be fair to all. But in an unprecedented timeframe, Governor, you took bold and decisive action,” Brown said. “Today is a momentous day for Maryland.”

“Maryland has a sad distinction: We put black men at the highest levels of the country.”

Baltimore City accounts for approximately 23% of pardoned convictions, which far exceeds the state’s proportional representation.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott released a statement saying in part: “The legacy the war on drugs has had on our city of Baltimore – and many places like it across the country – remains deep-seated and tangible. We continue to see and feel every day the wounds in the lives, families and communities that have been disrupted and destroyed. Today’s action to pardon these more than 175,000 convictions is a step toward healing. For those who receive the pardon — including thousands upon thousands of Baltimoreans — it will be life-changing.

The governor and attorney general said Black Marylanders are more likely to suffer the consequences of these convictions.

“As the governor said, there is more work to be done. Maryland has a sad distinction: We incarcerate Black men at the highest level in the country – 71% of our prison population is Black, yet we are only 31% of Maryland’s total population. It is yet another alarming racial disparity and one of my top priorities,” Brown said.

Total number of convictions per province

Allegany: 2,268 Anne Arundel: 11,926 Baltimore City: 39,865 Baltimore County: 22,298 Calvert: 3,086 Caroline: 1,510 Carroll 2,638 Cecil: 2,664 Charles 4,906 Dorchester: 3,751 Frederick: 6,097 Garrett: 2,208 Harford: 7,197 Howard 5 ,004 ​​​​Kent: 1,523 Montgomery : 11,606 Prince George’s: 21,080 Queen Anne’s: 3,093 St. Mary’s: 3,060 Somerset: 1,333 Talbot: 2,319 Washington: 3,491 Wicomico: 3,966 Worcester: 8,199 The public response was strong.

“It’s great, as long as it’s not a lot of marijuana – a little bit, yes. They can get a job without that conviction for just a small amount of marijuana. If it were a lot, that would be a different story,” says Mary James of Baltimore.

Video below: Watch the governor’s press conference in its entirety

“There are pharmacies everywhere. It’s now legal in the state,” said Parker Smith of Baltimore.

“It’s a good thing. People deserve better, people deserve forgiveness,” said Jake Binstock of Baltimore.

What happens now? The governor’s office said individuals may have had more than one conviction pardoned through this process, which is expected to take about two weeks for the judiciary to update electronic court records. It will take approximately 10 months for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to develop a process to indicate on an individual’s criminal record that the conviction has been pardoned under the pardon order.

While eligible individuals do not need to take any action to receive a pardon, some who are not included in the mass pardon may apply for a pardon through the regular application process – as may be the case for individuals whose convictions predated the electronically available records. formats.

A pardon does not mean expunging it from the archives. The action of a pardon is not the same as an expungement, the governor’s office explained. The charge will still appear on a person’s record as a pardoned crime. Anyone who wants to have their file deleted must take an extra step.

Legal experts say the governor’s pardon means people can now check ‘no’ on job applications, among other things. However, it is up to the courts to delete data, and not everyone is eligible to do so. Under Maryland law, people who violate probation are not allowed to apply for deportation.

“Any probation violation, no matter how minor, including decades-old small amounts of cannabis, now legal cannabis, permanently prevents Marylanders from having their convictions expunged,” said Heather Warnken, executive director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the University of Baltimore.

In addition to support from the public and the Last Prisoner Project, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland applaud the governor’s action.

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